The hypocritical heckle:
Hate speech without hate
What strikes me is that much of the hate speech directed towards Indians, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and homosexuals is uttered by people who know better.
By Steve Russell / The Rag Blog / April 14, 2010
I’ve been accused of making odd connections between events and maybe this is one. When a Republican Congressman shouted “You lie!” at President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on health care, most people just thought he was rude.
I was reminded of the motto reporters privately attribute to the Texas Legislature, “vote conservative — party liberal.” The motto represents rank hypocrisy. The Legislature meets once every two years, when the street price of cocaine and the services of professional ladies go up, demand suddenly overtaking supply. Or so it used to be.
When the heckle came at Obama he was saying that health care reform would not allow undocumented workers to buy into national health insurance, should the United States ever get national health insurance like every other industrial democracy already has.
It’s not possible to say that Obama was lying or that he wasn’t, since there were five bills pending at the time. The one immediately before the House excluded undocumented workers, but Obama was not talking about that or any other bill. He was talking about what he was willing to sign, and he could lie or not until he signed something that did or did not include undocumented workers.
The hypocrisy behind the rudeness is that my Republican friends tell me that they understand hardheaded economics and I don’t. They say that I want to take money from productive citizens and use it to improve the lives of freeloaders: the unemployed, the elderly, the sick. They say if I want to be charitable I should do it with my own money and let them run government like a business, with an eye to the bottom line. Taking care of each other is for churches, not governments.
Health insurance is a not a welfare program. If you wondered how it is possible to cover thirty million more people and still lower costs, the answer is the iron law of insurance: the broader the pool, the lower the cost to each member of the pool. Insurance is a risk-spreading device and more spreading means less expense.
Assuming that every Republican is focused on the bottom line, there would be every reason to cover undocumented workers, not because they do it in Europe but because it would make health care cheaper for us all.
It is of course not possible to cover undocumented workers the way the bills were and are drafted. They achieve broader coverage with a mandate that we all buy in, and the choke point where the buy in is enforced is IRS form 1040. Undocumented workers do not file IRS form 1040.
The first line of hypocrisy is that covering undocumented workers would be a good thing for the bottom line of the taxpayers and the second is that the coverage is impossible anyway. There is no way Obama could have been lying in terms of the final bill unless everything changed.
So why would the Republican congressman falsely call the President a liar? He was pandering to the voters who hate, like the fans of former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo and former CNN commentator Lou Dobbs. Tancredo and Dobbs, and the people who love them, represent the xenophobic side of American politics that started with the ugly things early settlers said about Indians, continued though the removals to Indian Territory, and only went more or less underground after the slaughter of non-combatants was caught on film at the horror we call Wounded Knee I in 1890. But did the people who spent time with Indians really believe the nonsense about ruthless savages?
All the most successful Indian fighters fought beside Indian scouts, often but not always from tribes with historical grievances against the immediate enemy. Crow scouted against Lakota and Tonkawa scouted against Comanche, but Apache also scouted against Apache. My point here is not to criticize Indians for settling scores but to criticize white people for lying about the people they worked beside.
It’s hard not to notice that the congressional heckler, Joe Wilson, was representing the great state of South Carolina, where hate and hypocrisy are apparently an art form. It was South Carolina Governor and then Senator Strom Thurmond who made a career as a segregationist while carrying on an affair with a black woman who bore his daughter. It was current South Carolina Governor and “family values” advocate Mark Sanford who made the phrase “hiking on the Appalachian Trail” an odd synonym for getting horizontal with your girlfriend.
The distance from South Carolina to Washington is like the distance from rural Texas to Austin in cultural terms, and like the distance from the Dakotas to the East Coast in the history of Indian relations.
What strikes me is that much of the hate speech directed towards Indians, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and homosexuals is uttered by people who know better. That they don’t really believe that nonsense often jumps out in their life histories.
In my generation, the late George Wallace was a veritable avatar of racism, proclaiming after an early political loss “I will never be out-niggered again!” But in his last term as Alabama governor, he not only had recanted his segregationist views, but he went on to set a record for the number of blacks appointed to state office.
There is a major strain of politics in Indian Country that is all about Indians as a threat to “equality” for white people, holders of “special privileges.” The major fear points are trust land being off state tax rolls and white people who live on Indian land being subjected to tribal laws.
The dittoheads in this controversy have never considered that when they are citizens of New Mexico driving on a Texas highway, they are subject to the laws of Texas, a “foreign” sovereign. Every time you drive on the land of a pueblo in New Mexico there is a big sign informing you that you are entering the sovereignty of that pueblo. The political leaders who whip up outrage over Indian sovereignty, on the other hand, know this, and they know that the only possible objection to being subject to tribal laws is racism.
Much if not most political hate speech, I am convinced, is uttered for political advantage by people who really do not hate the people they are using to arouse a following among voters for whom they have no respect at all. For those of us subjected to the hate speech, knowing it is uttered by knaves to influence fools is cold comfort.
[Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment. He recently retired as an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University. His writing has been published widely; he is a columnist for Indian Country Today and a contributor to The Rag Blog. Steve was an activist in Austin in the Sixties and Seventies, and wrote for Austin’s underground paper, The Rag. He lives in Sun City, Texas, near Austin.]